Perfumes: The Guide is a landmark. It is the only book of its kind, and I adore the vast majority of its 1,800 amusing, often poetic perfume reviews. But every work (except for Star Trek V) has its flaws, and Perfume’s greatest is its Mona di Orio reviews. (YEAH I SAID V WANNA FIGHT ABOUT IT NO OTHER STAR TREK FILM HUMANIZES MCCOY TO THE SAME EXTENT) Luca Turin’s criticism of Mona’s perfumes was bizarrely and cruelly personal. I refer to the following humorless swipe at Mona’s appearance: “Di Orio describes herself in her press materials as a ‘living Modigliani’, which, desirable or not, is clearly delusional.” (The weird part is that Mona di Orio actually did look quite a bit like Modigliani’s female subjects, which have similarly thin faces and dramatic noses.) I don’t care if Mona di Orio stood up Luca Turin’s favorite grandmother at the goddamn altar- it’s unbelievably inappropriate to disparage a perfumer’s physical appearance, which is entirely irrelevant to their work. These reviews seem even more callous in light of Mona di Orio’s unexpected death at the age of 42 in 2011.
I haven’t tried any of Mona di Orio’s earlier work. I have no idea if her first perfumes were as “hilariously bad” as Turin claims. I can only say that Vanille is very good. Vanille smells like boozy vanilla extract and cigarette smoke, with the emphasis on the smoke rather than the booze. This is a common enough perfume archetype, but I find Vanille unusually restrained for its genre. It is darker than L’Artisan Havana Vanille, and quieter than Guerlain Spirituese Double Vanille. The closest parallel I can draw is to MAC MV3, a fabulous and tragically discontinued leather vanilla. Vanille is better than beautiful- it’s mysterious, intriguing without being provocative. Highly recommended to those who prefer their vanillas dark.